Mid-May saw the opening in Paris of the Maison du Bitcoin (Bitcoin House), an information centre and ‘laboratory’ dedicated to the development of this virtual currency. The aim of the Maison is to teach people all about the digital currency and to work hand-in-hand with startups who want to embark on bitcoin business.
The Maison du Bitcoin opened on 13 May in Paris, with a mission to promote the development of bitcoin, a virtual currency which has been much in the news recently. Bitcoin House is basically a physical venue where people can exchange their euros for bitcoins. However, its founder, Eric Larchevêque, hopes that it will play a wider role than that, working with innovations linked to the digital currency and helping startups that are keen to invest in the technology. In addition to necessary equipment, entrepreneurs will find at the Maison a range of services and technical expertise on bitcoin. People will be able to acquire their first bitcoins or just find out all about the ecosystem of this ‘cryptocurrency’.
Finding a place on the financial and commercial markets
Natalie Michel, Global Head of Strategy & Marketing at the Distribution, Markets and Solutions department of L’Atelier parent BNP Paribas, strongly feels that “people need a system which allows them to carry out transactions in the virtual world in the same way as they do in the physical world.” Bitcoin has the potential to meet this need. ‘Maison du Bitcoin’ founder Eric Larchevêque believes that the use of virtual currency is likely to grow and that in particular in two or three years’ time all kinds of connected objects will be routinely augmented with bitcoin transaction tools for making micro-payments. One example might be connected cars, which would be able to automatically pay for parking spaces themselves. For the moment, the main obstacle he sees to bitcoin popularity is that the electronic money is quite hard to get hold of. “If the general public doesn’t get into using bitcoin, there won’t be sufficient liquidity. This will mean highly volatile exchange rates that will put the brakes on investment in this field,” he warns. Eric Larchevêque hopes that the launch of the Paris bitcoin laboratory will enable this digital currency to find a place for itself on the financial and commercial markets. He is convinced that France has the engineers and knowhow needed to spread the technology on which bitcoin is based.
Filling a gap
Both Natalie Michel and Eric Larchevêque acknowledge that using bitcoin to buy a loaf of bread would not really add any value. But for example, says Michel, virtual currency would be very useful in a situation where you have to make a remote payment of a small amount like €10 to a friend. Digital money would be a simpler and faster means of paying than a cheque or bank transfer, as long as there is no additional cost and no risk. The need for virtual currency such as bitcoin thus arises from this kind of specific situation. The Maison du Bitcoin founder envisages bitcoin becoming a secure means of remote payment. For that to happen however, bitcoin will have to become completely trustworthy, which means that a regulatory framework needs to be set up and bitcoin use must be formally recognised by the authorities. “This is the main challenge,” points out Natalie Michel. At the present time, bitcoin has no legal status whatsoever in France. “Startups”, she argues, “are highly likely to be interested in bitcoin. But a currency has to have people on the receiving side who are happy to accept your money as a means of exchange. The system needs to attract lots of participants in order to create a virtuous circle,” underlines the BNP Paribas market solutions expert.